Supporting effective science pedagogy

Angela Schipper, Science Learning Hub

The Science Learning Hub – Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao connects New Zealand’s science and education sectors. Education research is used to inform the development of bespoke multimedia resources, which both tell the stories of contemporary science, and suggest to teachers how these stories might be used to design school science that is engaging and relevant. With New Zealand Year 4 and Year 8 students’ science performance slipping in the international TIMSS results released mid-December 2020, teacher support in the area of science is set to become all the more urgent. This blog post introduces some of what the Science Learning Hub – Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaio does and how it links to educational research and key national priorities, with lots of links to sample resources and further reading.

Engaging with the science community  

The innovative thinking and research behind the Hub’s launch in 2006 continue to shape its growth in relation to both resource creation and teacher professional development. We’ve established strong relationships with scientists from across Aotearoa’s universities and research institutes, and the sector is increasingly approaching the Hub to collaborate. Our recent collaboration with the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ is a prime example: the Hub developed educational resources to support their November 2020 report, Our atmosphere and climate 2020, which focuses on the science of climate change and communicating the issues the country will face. Example articles include: Greenhouse gases and the atmosphere, Evidence of climate change in New Zealand and Why climate change matters to Māori. Student activities focus on data and how it is presented. Example activities include: Using infographics and Using weather data, which provides 60 long-term regional datasets for classroom use and interpretation. Climate change – challenging conversations uses concept cartoons to encourage critical thinking.

Pūtaiao and mātauranga Māori

We recognise that science is just one of the knowledge systems available in Aotearoa. Mātauranga Māori is a vast repository of knowledge of te taiao. The following quote comes from the climate change report referred to earlier:

“Mātauranga Māori and science are independent views of te taiao and use different methodologies to progressively add observations and knowledge over generations. Their relationship has been likened to a braided river with channels that cross and uncross on the journey downstream. When the ‘channels cross’ there is an opportunity for these knowledge systems to come together and provide new ways of thinking and alternate pathways to explore.” (p. 68)

Ministry for the Environment, Climate Change Report 2020.

As educators, we are committed to including mātauranga Māori and mātauranga pūtaiao in order to enrich the curriculum for all students. The Hub has a range of content that reflects mātauranga and its contributions to our understanding of the natural world, including PLD webinars. We have a growing collection of resources in te reo Māori. We’ve also recently partnered with kura and kairangahau Māori to produce a suite of resources on repo (wetlands), with support from MBIE’s Unlocking Curious Minds fund. Other topics, with resources available in both te reo Māori and English, include nga hekaheka and ngā ika taketake wai māori o Aotearoa.

Supporting science knowledge and pedagogy

Research shows that school science is more engaging when it makes connections to students’ everyday lives (e.g., Osborne & Collins, 2010), so our resources present scientific knowledge within contextual settings. For example, we use godwits, Kiwi cyclists and rockets as the contexts for exploring physics fundamentals.

To cater for diverse navigation pathways and needs, an extensive metadata tagging system groups resources into topics and concepts. Topics – like life cycles – provide a route into exploring specific science concepts in engaging and relevant contexts. Concepts – like tectonic plates – are often a starting point for secondary teachers, and the Hub shows how these concepts can relate to contemporary science research and to students’ everyday lives. Science articles are also used by teachers to support their own science understanding as well as their science programme planning. These same articles are also accessed by students and wider communities.

Wrap-around teacher support materials include suggestions for unit plans and classroom activities, as well as teacher professional learning resources like recorded webinars, case studies, and summaries of educational research. For example, Scientists talking to students through videos explains some of the benefits of using ‘short and sharp’ videos of scientists in classroom programmes. Our planning pathways were developed in response to user feedback and contain pedagogical and curriculum information. We’ve made them for popular topics like plastics, earthquakes, climate change and native trees.

The Hub is managed by the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research at the University of Waikato and funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment under the Government’s Strategic Plan for Science in Society.

You don’t need to be the expert

My background is in primary school teaching. I understand the hesitance some teachers feel about teaching science – we can’t be experts in everything. Teachers have reported how helpful they find the Hub’s hundreds of videos with real experts. We’ve filmed scientists across the length and breadth of Aotearoa. They’ve been handpicked for their ability to explain the important concepts that underlie their fields. Professor Craig Rodger from the University of Otago is one of my favourites due to his enthusiasm and the clarity of his explanations. Watch as he tells us about lightning and thunder.

The videos are accompanied by written transcripts, which some teachers use as literacy tools. They play the video a second time so that students can read along – helping students pick up key science vocabulary. Using videos in the classroom provides more suggestions for how to effectively embed videos in teaching and learning sequences.

The nature of science and scientific literacy

The science essence statement in the New Zealand Curriculum states that “students explore how both the natural physical world and science itself work so that they can participate as critical, informed, and responsible citizens in a society in which science plays a significant role” (p. 17, emphasis added). As Aotearoa’s evidence-based approaches to managing COVID-19 have recently highlighted, many personal and societal decisions involve scientific understanding. Socio-scientific issues like climate change and the use of 1080 for pest control provide important, relevant opportunities for students to engage with and evaluate scientific evidence while developing all of their key competencies, including participating and contributing.

Angela Schipper is a content developer for the Science Learning Hub. The Hub allows her to pursue interests from rockets to invertebrates to oddities on the periodic table. Angela is a strong advocate for scientific literacy – with a particular focus on climate change and socio-scientific issues. Angela understands that websites can seem pretty impersonal, but the Hub is backed by a small team of educators, education researchers and multimedia developers who share an enthusiasm for inspiring learning about the natural world. She and her team are always keen to hear from people and help whenever they can, so feel free to get in touch via email or via social media channels.

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